The Secret Scheme To Sabotage Abu-Jamal's Appeal Rights
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the internationally recognized American political prisoner, thwarted a Philadelphia judge’s secretive court order that could have eliminated his future appeal rights when he filed a last- minute motion on August 23rd challenging that order sentencing him to life-without-parole.
Most supporters and detractors of Abu-Jamal had been expecting the formal conversion of his controversial death sentence to life-without-parole in the wake of a federal appeals court’s second and final rejection of requests from Philadelphia prosecutors to keep Abu-Jamal on death row back in April 2011.
What was unexpected by Abu-Jamal supporters were the procedures surrounding the secretive court order, which appears to have violated a number of Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Abu-Jamal’s Pro Se Motion for Post Sentence Relief and Reconsideration of Sentence referenced Rule 720 of Pennsylvania’s Criminal Procedure which states in part that defendants shall “have the right” to make post-sentence motion but that motion must be filed “no later than 10 days after imposition of sentence.”
That secretly issued resentencing order occurred on August 13, 2012, exactly ten days before Abu-Jamal filed his motion.
If that ten-day filing period had expired, undiscovered due to secrecy-shrouded issuance of the resentencing order about which no public notice or notice was provided to Abu-Jamal and his legal team, his legal ability to challenge his continued confinement would have been damaged, including his probable loss of future appeal rights.
Court rules and common decency require notice of court actions -- both pending and actually taken.
“This is the same backdoor stuff that’s always done to him,” a Mumia attorney, Rachel Wolkenstein, said during an interview outside of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center after delivering Abu-Jamal’s motion.
Wolkenstein, who has worked on Abu-Jamal's case for over two decades, uncovered that secretly issued judicial order.
She became aware of it during a routine inspection of Philadelphia court records checking to see when a resentencing would occur.
Wolkenstein immediately informed Abu-Jamal and his legal team, all of whom were unaware of the order.